Sunday, 31 May 2015

Cabbies cry foul over rival drivers

It says Uber and others don't have to meet stringent industry standards
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 30 May 2015

THE taxi industry is up in arms over transport app providers and rental car companies running their own fleet of "taxis".

National Taxi Association (NTA) adviser Ang Hin Kee said yesterday that these companies are "creaming off profits", without having to meet the stringent requirements and standards the taxi industry has to meet.

Transport app provider Uber recently set up its own car rental company to run what is effectively a parallel taxi operation. It leases cars to drivers at less than half the taxi rental rate, provided they undertake at least 40 Uber-assigned trips a week.

Rental group Prime Leasing has set up a similar operation, but its drivers are employees.

Mr Ang, who is also an Ang Mo Kio GRC MP, said: "We've voiced our concerns to the Land Transport Authority. It says it is studying the issue.

"It's an issue of a level playing field... Taxi companies are required to have a fleet that is well maintained... they make sure that things like brakes are working properly. In the end, this is cost, which is translated into rentals."

He also said taxi drivers have to undergo vocational training and re-training and satisfy various service indicators.

"They are exposed to a lot of public scrutiny - so much so that when a cabby uses his cab to drive his daughter to school, people ask 'is that right?'

"But suddenly, we have a group of people who may be ex-cabbies, who may have been banned because of disciplinary action, who may have criminal records, who don't have health checks - they're now operating these 'limo' services," he said.

Mr Ang said the authorities need to recognise this is also about public safety, adding that "thank goodness we've not had any major incident".

Taxi commuter Richard Ho, 55, avoids using these unmarked cars. The IT director said: "My wife definitely will never get into one. We're a bit concerned about the security issue."

But National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der-Horng said companies like Uber are merely being innovative, and "as long as they abide by the law and, given the essence of shared economy, why not?"

He said firms such as Uber complement taxis, especially during peak hours.

Mr Ang of the NTA acknowledged that companies like Uber can help meet peak transport demand. "But there needs to be clear rules on how they go about their business... Right now, I'm not sure there are."

The LTA said business entities can lease rental cars to provide chauffeured vehicle services but these must be covered with adequate insurance. These rental cars also cannot pick up street hails.

We're not competing with taxis, says Uber executive
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 30 May 2015

TAXI companies usually have a monopoly in their respective countries and want to maintain that stronghold, said a Uber executive when asked about the unhappiness surrounding the ride-matching app.

Mr David Plouffe, Uber's senior vice-president of policy and strategy, said taxi companies tell their drivers that it is going to be "the end of the world for them" when Uber and other companies enter the market. This is not the case, he said.

"Most people who are using Uber, they live in areas where there may not be access (to) taxis. They are not saying I would have used a taxi but I'm using Uber instead," he said.

Mr Plouffe was speaking on the sidelines of the International Transport Forum summit in Germany.

Some critics feel Uber is not competing on the same level as the taxi industry because it does not require its drivers to hold any professional driving qualifications or abide by the regulations that some governments, including Singapore's, impose on taxis.

Mr Umberto de Pretto, the secretary-general of the International Road Transport Union, which has a presence in 74 countries, said: "If I'm asking someone to move me from point A to point B as a taxi service, it should fall within the taxi regulations."

Mr Plouffe said Uber welcomes new regulations for ride-matching services, including background checks on drivers, vehicle inspections and insurance coverage.

Uber sets up car rental firm in Singapore to recruit drivers
By Christopher Tan Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 29 May 2015

UBER, the transport app provider, has set up its own fully-owned car rental company here, a world's first for the San Francisco-based company.

Lion City Rentals has been running for three months now, drawing a steady line of customers. But it is not targeting the typical individual who wants to rent a car for the weekend.

The Straits Times understands that it is a new way for Uber to recruit drivers and, in turn, give people an affordable way to own a car. With high certificate of entitlement (COE) prices and restrictive loan rules, a buyer has to fork out tens of thousands in cash for a down payment to own a car.

Uber requires a deposit of only $1,000, and its rates are far below taxi rentals, which hover at around $130 a day. With rates as low as $47 plus taxes per day, or nearly 20 per cent lower than the average market rate for car rentals, it has attracted users who want access to a car and also an extra income by offering paid rides.

Customers must set up a company, not have been in jail for more than seven days, and must undertake 40 Uber trips a week.

Uber spokesman Karun Arya said: "Uber carries out experiments around the world in our quest to create innovative solutions to specific market requirements." This is the first such exercise it has undertaken.

Lion City Rentals was set up in mid-February, with a paid-up capital of $100. It has attracted scores of prospects, say sources.

Uber is said to be exploring tie-ups with other rental firms to expand its search for drivers.

The director of one leasing company, which also offers paid rides, questioned if Uber's operating model was legal. Requesting anonymity, he said: "We hire all our drivers, we pay them a salary, CPF. What they (Uber) are doing may be considered as sub-renting. I'm not sure if it's allowed."

Asked if Uber's practice was legal, the Land Transport Authority would say only that "business entities who lease such cars must ensure that the leased vehicles are covered with adequate insurance for its intended purpose".

Transport industry watchers expect competition to heat up for taxi operators and even car dealers. Dr Park Byung Joon, an urban transport management expert at SIM University, said: "This is one step closer to a taxi operation, and with a very low entry barrier." It creates an uneven playing field for the taxi industry. "Uber has been very good at finding grey areas," he said, adding that the regulator should be "concerned".

But as far as Mr Anesh Muniyandhi is concerned, Lion City gives him access to wheels. "I just scrapped my car, and I was looking for a cost-effective solution," said the 43-year-old, who is in the IT hardware business.

He rented a 2006 Honda Civic for $55 a day. "I save around $1,500 a month by not buying a car," he said. But the rental car was not well-kept and had flaws, including faded brake pads. He had to take it to a workshop. "If the repair takes less than eight hours, they will not waive the rental," he said. "And if I fail to do 40 trips a week, I've to pay a 15 per cent rental surcharge."

Can private-hire cars act like cabs?

AS A taxi driver, I welcome the regulators' light touch on third-party apps for taxis ("Cabbies cry foul over rival drivers"; last Saturday).

These apps have given many fellow drivers more options instead of empty cruising, and have made it more convenient for commuters too.

However, I am concerned with "private-hire cars" disguised as taxi services.

These vehicles are even equipped with virtual meter fare capability.

Recently, when I was queueing at the airport, I received a brochure encouraging me to switch to driving a private-hire vehicle.

It touted low rentals and no worries on meeting taxi availability standards and other Land Transport Authority (LTA) regulations. It also indicated tie-ups with app operators on call bookings, and guaranteed daily jobs.

I understand that drivers are also encouraged to set up their own transport company, as the sole proprietor, and hire a vehicle from a rental company.

It was attractive, but many drivers were unsure about whether it was legitimate and legal, as the LTA previously explained that drivers offering chauffeur services must be employees of a limousine company.

Given the growing interest among many drivers, and the strong marketing strategies of private-hire car businesses, I hope the LTA can make it clear if such practices are allowed.

Henry Tay Choon Chua
ST Forum, 4 Jun 2015

Competition a chance for taxi service to improve

I HOPE that instead of a knee-jerk reaction to protect the status quo, both taxi companies and the Government can see the introduction of Uber here as an opportunity to improve the public transport network ("Uber sets up car rental firm in S'pore to recruit drivers"; last Friday, and "Cabbies cry foul over rival drivers"; last Saturday).

The prohibitively high cost of car ownership in Singapore means that many of us rely heavily on public transport, including taxis.

However, the current taxi services leave much to be desired.

Often, there are plenty of taxis - when you don't need them.

In times of foul weather, or when you are in a remote area, taxis are hard to find, even if you call for one.

Taxi fares should also be cheaper, given that this is an essential service.

But companies are driven by profit, and when they are in a dominant market position, there is no incentive for them to improve service or lower fares.

Only more competition, with out-of-the-box thinking, can achieve this.

Hopefully, taxi companies can take a leaf out of the newcomer's book, and reflect on where they can innovate and improve.

Government regulations to ensure passenger safety are paramount, but that is no excuse to curb a potentially healthy and encouraging development.

This is a great opportunity to take a hard look at the current market, and provide Singaporeans and people coming here with a better public transport system.

Edgar Ji Wei
ST Forum, 4 Jun 2015

Impose rules to protect public safety

NATIONAL Taxi Association adviser Ang Hin Kee was right to emphasise the issue of public safety when it comes to transport app providers and rental car companies ("Cabbies cry foul over rival drivers"; last Saturday).

It is clear that the companies are operating on an uneven playing field.

Their drivers are not trained, do not have to clock a required distance, and have no requirements for health checks.

There is also no indication if the cars, being commercial vehicles, are checked regularly.

The lack of regulations lowers costs for the companies but compromises public safety.

When new innovations and trends disrupt the norm, regulators need to respond.

I urge the authorities to be more proactive in looking after the conflicting interests and not leave things to chance.

It is, after all, the safety of the public that they need to protect.

Philip Tan
ST Forum, 4 Jun 2015

Ways to better safeguard commuters under study

CHAUFFEURED vehicle services have long been available in the market, and have been commonly used for corporate trips airport transfers, and special occasions, such as weddings ("Can private-hire cars act like cabs?" by Mr Henry Tay Choon Chua, "Impose rules to protect public safety" by Mr Philip Tan, and "Competition a chance for taxi service to improve" by Mr Edgar Ji Wei; all published last Thursday).

They can be provided only by private-hire cars, which must be covered by appropriate insurance for such purposes.

Unlike taxis, private-hire cars are not allowed to ply the roads for hire, or pick up passengers at taxi stands, that is, street hail.

Only those who possess a taxi driver's vocational licence and drive taxis owned by taxi companies can do so. About 80 per cent of all taxi trips today are by street hail.

Technology has made chauffeured vehicle services even more accessible to the public, complementing taxi services.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has been closely monitoring and checking on the chauffeured vehicle service industry to ensure that the providers adhere to the law.

The LTA is studying further measures to ensure commuter interests and, in particular, safety, given the recent growth and developments in such services. Measures include stricter penalties for the improper use of private cars, and removing the current exemption for drivers of such services from obtaining a vocational licence.

The LTA will continue to engage the various stakeholders and balance the need to protect commuter safety with allowing for innovation in the private transport services industry.

Helen Lim (Ms)
Media Relations
Land Transport Authority
ST Forum, 9 Jun 2015

Do you know that Uber takes a 20% commission from their drivers? How much do fares differ between a regular taxi, Uber...
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